Ward proud to lead beloved Irvinestown to promotion

By Niall Gartland

IRVINESTOWN have sprung back to Division One at the first time of asking, and they also have a chance of bagging some silverware in Sunday’s Division Two final against Belcoo.

The Fermanagh club finished top of the pile in Division Two after a hugely impressive campaign, and it’s been some turnaround after a fairly pitiful showing in the Club Players Competition earlier in the season.

Their homegrown manager Francie Ward, a former player at the club, is justifiably proud of how they turned things around after a fairly inauspicious start to their tenure.

“We’d a late pre-season, we stepped in at a late date so early on we were just concentrating more on fitness than formations and gameplans. The players’ competition was a bit of a disaster but the three-week break before the league was a real blessing for us.”

On their promotion achievement, he said: “It’s great for the club, and I have to credit the club’s committee as they’re fantastic, it’s great for all those lads as they put in a huge amount of work behind the scenes.

“Personally, as a former player who wasn’t at county standard, it’s been great to take them back up alongside Dwayne McCartan and Stephen Sheridan. None of us were county players and these days it seems you’re not really deemed to be a proper manager otherwise, so it is a great achievement for us. I’m down as manager, somebody had to put their name down, but it’s a three-way effort between me, Dwayne and Stephen.”

Irvinestown arguably underachieved last year, dipping out of the top flight despite having a treasure trove of youthful talent coming through the ranks. But it’s fair to say they put in the hard work and they’re now reaping the rewards.

“To be fair our lads have definitely bought into what we’re doing. The culture has been very good and that’s a big deal for us. We’re not dictators, everything is very much player-driven. The lads have stepped up and are competing with each other for places which is great.

“We’ve a really good youth set-up, we’re nearly 40 lads on the senior panel and the majority are under 24. We haven’t had a full team out due to holidays and a few injuries, but we’ve a very big panel and it’s been a good headache for us to have. We have 10 or 11 steady lads playing every week and others have been brought in on a weekly basis to do a job for us and it’s working well.”

Achieving promotion has been the big target, but he isn’t taking the opportunity of picking up league silverware this weekend lightly.

“The chance of getting silverware is a great bonus for us, it’s a bonus for any league. We’re only two or three weeks away from the championship and we’ve a game against a really good Belcoo team. They were in a senior championship final not that long ago, they’ve had their ups and downs. It should be a good one.”

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